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Rep. Fowler won't seek re-election

By BILL ADAIR

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 5, 2000


WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Tillie Fowler, the only Floridian in the House Republican leadership, said Tuesday that she will not seek re-election.

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The Jacksonville lawmaker had been under pressure to step down because of her 1992 promise to serve only eight years in Congress, but she said the term-limit controversy was not a big factor in her decision. Many constituents had urged her to run, Fowler said, and a recent poll showed she would have strong support even if she broke her promise.

Fowler, 57, said she was retiring because she had accomplished her goals from her first campaign: balancing the federal budget, reforming welfare and strengthening defense.

"I take great pride in the fact that we not only changed Congress, but we changed America," she said.

Fowler is the third Florida Republican to announce plans to step down from the House at the end of this year. The others are Rep. Charles Canady of Lakeland, who made a similar term-limit pledge, and Rep. Bill McCollum of Longwood, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Connie Mack.

Nationwide, 10 House members made term-limit pledges not to run after this session of Congress, according to U.S. Term Limits, an advocacy group. Seven have decided not to seek re-election and three -- Reps. George Nethercutt, R-Wash.; Marty Meehan, D-Mass.; and Scott McInnis, R-Colo. -- are breaking their pledges.

U.S. Term Limits had been running advertisements in Jacksonville that called Fowler "Slick Tillie" and urged her not to run. Paul Jacob, the group's national director, said Tuesday that his group's poll showed Jacksonville voters strongly opposed the idea of Fowler serving another term.

"There was a real firestorm out there," Jacob said. "I think she was surprised by the extent of it."

But Fowler said that she heard overwhelming support to run again and that the ads were not a factor in her decision.

"After all that junk that U.S. Term Limits ran, it had no impact," Fowler said. "Voters were not paying attention."

Still, Jacob praised Fowler's decision.

"Power has a corrupting influence," he said. "It takes a special person to resist that influence."

Fowler's district is considered a safe Republican seat, but Fowler said she is not endorsing a successor. Possible GOP candidates include state Sen. Jim Horne and Kevin Delaney, a retired Navy admiral.

Democrats Kevin S. Sanders and James-Francis Jude O'Neill and independent Deborah Katz Pueschel have also announced they will run.

Fowler's departure is a blow to Florida's clout in Congress. She had been the vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, the fifth-highest leadership seat and the highest held by a woman in the GOP leadership. She has often served as a spokesman for the party at Capitol Hill news conferences and on TV talk shows.

"We're losing a very well-respected legislator," said Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale.

But Shaw said the state's delegation could still be a good position because Rep. Porter Goss, R-Sanibel, is a possible contender for a leadership spot and Shaw is one of three members who could become chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. All of that hinges on the Republicans retaining control of the House.

Jacksonville Republicans have speculated that if Texas Gov. George W. Bush is elected president, Fowler could become a top defense official in his administration. But Fowler said Tuesday that she is focused on serving the final year of her term in Congress and had not had any discussions about jobs with Bush or his aides.

Fowler said she is "committed to public service." But she added: "I don't have any career master plan. I've always believed if you work hard and do a good job, you're rewarded."

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